Written by Kerry E.B. Black
Word count: 871
Because of our circumstances, I understand when we are not invited to outings with family and friends. Big families make group logistics difficult, and our family is large. It feels bigger still because of the group dynamics. Our littlest is an extremely active four year old boy. It takes great effort for him to sit still for long. The youngest girl is a moody teenager convinced the world is out to get her. Next in the line-up is my teen who battles cerebral palsy and acute anxiety. Her service dog joins the fray, a help in times of melt-down. The eldest at home is a busy young woman of twenty who often declines family gatherings because she is otherwise engaged with school and friends. The oldest of all the kids lives elsewhere, and we rarely see or even hear from him.
My anxious girl hates to transition, so she delays with defiance. The littlest has no concept of time, so he procrastinates, distractible. My youngest daughter feels the world should move at her pace, so she needs encouragement such as “Put your makeup on in the car! Your hair looks beautiful. Do not jump in the shower. You can’t seem to get out of there in under an hour and a half.” She and the eldest bump heads regarding time in the powder room. Me? I stand at the kitchen counter with a hand-compact and brush on some eye makeup. Good to go. First world problems, I know, but when trying to wrangle a group, even a single straggler can gum the entire works.
When we all finally make it out the door, with me shouting like an Army drill instructor barking orders such as “Shoes, now. Jackets on. Out to the car. March!” and we attend, everyone seems fine.
Physicality of a location can present challenges or bar our participation entirely. Handicapped accessibility is not something we thought about before we needed to deal with the restrictions. A simple step can be a challenge, a stairwell daunting, but scaling an incline may preclude our involvement. I can send the others along and sit out with my gal. However, it is inevitable once we enjoy a bit of time, Miss Anxiety wishes to return to the comforts of home, while Mr. Baby of the Family never wants to leave and will throw a tantrum to prove it.
Even a little get together with just adults is tricky. My husband works at a car dealership, so his hours are horrendous, and when he does get home, he often needs decompression time. He is, by nature, an introvert, so extended social interaction drains him. (The eldest girl has inherited this character trait, incidentally.) I feel selfish trying to drag him along knowing the emotional toll, so our couples’ outings are rare.
Plus, with couples’ outings, childcare needs addressing. If the eldest girl is available, it is understood that her offered services will be contingent upon “better offers.” If, for example, any of her friends call, she will expect to spend time with them instead of “being trapped at home watching OUR kids.” The fourteen-year-old is good with watching her little brother and helping out with her older handicapped sister as long as the timing allows the siblings be put to bed shortly after our departure. Otherwise, the abundance of telephone calls and text messages she sends with “He’s being annoying.” And “She just won’t stop…” will induce us to return home.
On the rare occasion that I am invited somewhere without the children, I need to check with the committee (IE my husband and the potential babysitters) and refer to the schedule. If the date is open, as in there is no band, tae kwon do, therapy, doctor appointment, girl scouting, extra-curricular, or kids’ social engagement, I launch an excited and stipulated preliminary “acceptance.” “As long as everyone remains healthy, I should be there! Thank you so much for thinking to include me.”
Inevitably, the day of my personal time will be fraught with guilt-inducing difficulties. The littlest clings to my leg, sobbing, “But I’ll miss you. Please don’t go!” My two would-be sitters complain about the infringement upon their freedoms by being yoked with childcare. My middle girl sometimes cries, sometimes pees herself or worse, and sometimes just for added emphasis she throws up or has a seizure from the stress. I end up late and frazzled, or I call with the excuse. “I can’t leave. I’m so sorry.”
Sorry doesn’t convey the weight of my despair. Parents feel torn between selfless devotion to their children and deep-rooted need for self-actualization. At times, the two mesh with symmetry, but others see discordant asymmetry. To divide in twain would help.
Although I understand when we are not invited and hold no ill-will or hard feelings, I still wish with my full heart to be counted in, my children involved, and above all appreciate the inclusion. Even with all of the finagling and shenanigans involved with interaction, we social beings benefit from and need contact with the world outside our insulated existence. So for those who extend the hands of friendship, I thank you most humbly and sincerely and thank you for your patience.